Friday, March 26, 2010

Confessions of a Pasta-holic

I'm obsessed with pasta. I crave it almost constantly, and I'm willing to eat it at any time of day, including as soon as I wake up in the morning. Carbonara for breakfast, anyone?

Ironically, it's easy for me to identify my favorite pasta dish. When people ask me what my absolute favorite meal is (like if you were trapped on a desert island and could only eat one thing for the rest of your life), I immediately say spaghetti and meatballs.

My mom happens to make a killer version. Her trick, which she learned from a little old Italian lady in Buffalo, NY, is to include bite-size pieces of Italian bread soaked in milk to her meatball mix. Most people use fine bread crumbs, but I think the larger pieces of milk-soaked bread give the meatballs texture and keep them moist. Unlike my mom, I like to include half a pound of ground pork in my meatball ingredients (my mom prefers to use only ground beef and ground veal). I find that the pork adds a spicy, heartier flavor.

So, here's my mom's recipe, which I made for a group of hungry friends a few weeks ago. The ingredients cost about $40, and the recipe feeds up to 10 people. There were 7 people in our group, and we didn't have any leftovers.

Old-School Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs


For the meatballs:
4 slices Italian bread, torn into bite size pieces
3/4 cup milk
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices, crusts removed)
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 healthy pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 whole bay leaves, dried or fresh
1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, liquid included
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, liquid included
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves

For serving:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds spaghetti (or your favorite type of pasta - wheat penne would be delicious as well), cooked al dente
Freshly grated Parmesan


Tear bread into pieces and soak in milk for about 5 minutes. Remove bread from milk and place in a bowl with the ground meats, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and egg. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs.

Pour olive oil into a dutch oven to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the red pepper flakes, bay leaves and tomato paste and cook for three more minutes. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot over cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.


  1. Kara! You make me want to come to ATL and eat your food! Mmm, you had me at the addition of pork. Sounds so yummy, and I'm not much of a pasta gal.

  2. Samma, you are always welcome in my kitchen (or Kinger's kitchen). Come visit, woman!